What Business Licenses and Permits are Needed in Wisconsin?

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What Business Licenses and Permits are Needed in Wisconsin?

Starting a business in Wisconsin will mean potentially registering with a number of federal, state, and local agencies.  Let’s take a look at common licenses and permits a business will register for in Wisconsin.

Before applying for any licenses, the business entity will first need to be established. Learn more about the differences between the sole proprietorship, general partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC).

Related: Comparison of Business Entities

Learn more about forming an LLC in Wisconsin

Also see: Steps to starting a business in Wisconsin

General Business Licenses

There is no general state of Wisconsin business license, however, many cities require businesses to be licensed in order to operate. Rules for business registration vary depending on location and what the business does.  Below are a few cities that have licensing requirements. 

Milwaukee – Certain businesses operating in the city limits of Milwaukee need to obtain a business license. A few businesses required to register include food dealers, limo services, pawnbrokers, and tattoo studios. 

Madison Certain businesses such as bicycle dealers, tattoo parlors, secondhand dealers, and others operating in the city limits of Madison are required to obtain a business license from the City Clerk’s Office.

Green Bay – Some businesses will need to obtain a business license in Green Bay, such as junk dealers, businesses selling alcohol, mobile food vendors, tree trimmers, and more.

KenoshaBusiness registration is required for businesses operating in Kenosha, such as gas stations, dog kennels, massage studios, towing services, and more.

Racine – The City Clerk issues business licenses and permits for billiard halls, bowling alleys, bars, and more.


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Building & Zoning Permits

ZoningDepending on the location of the business, it’s important to verify whether the business needs an occupancy permit or has specific zoning regulations to follow. Depending on city requirements, home-based businesses may need to apply for a home-based business occupation permit.

Building Permit – A building permit may be needed from the city or county building and planning department if there is any construction or renovations to a facility.

Signage Permit – Some municipalities require a permit before adding signage.

Seller’s Permit

Every individual, partnership, corporation, or other organization making retail sales, leases, or rentals of tangible personal property or taxable services in Wisconsin must register for a Wisconsin Seller’s Permit (also called a sales tax permit) from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

Sales Tax Exemption Certificate

Businesses purchasing merchandise to resell will usually want to obtain a Wisconsin Sales Tax Exemption Certificate in order to not pay sales tax for merchandise that is being resold to customers.

Professional License

A variety of professional services in the state are regulated and need to be registered before offering certain services.  A few common occupations that require licensing in Wisconsin include; barbers, home inspectors, interior designers, manicurists, and many more.   Additional information, fees, and licensing requirements for professions in Wisconsin are available from the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services.

In addition to professional licenses from the Department of Safety and Professional Services, businesses in a variety of industries such as food establishments, daycares, and salvage yards also require licensing.

Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Many businesses will register with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for an EIN (also referred to as a FEIN, Federal Employer Identification Number, or Federal Tax ID Number). The EIN is the business equivalent of a Social Security Number for an individual. Corporations, Limited Liability Companies, Partnerships, and Sole Proprietorships with employees will all need to register for one. Sole Proprietorships without employees can use the owner’s Social Security Number.

There is no cost for an EIN, and it only takes a few minutes to get.

Learn how to apply for an EIN

Trade Name Registration

While not a business license, it’s common for Sole Proprietorships and Partnerships operating under a name that is different from the full name of the owner(s) to register for a Trade Name (also known as a Doing Business As or DBA) with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.


These are just some of the most common business licenses a new business will need to register before starting. Before starting your business, be sure to check with City Hall, County Clerk, Chamber of Commerce, and/or Economic Developer in your area to get more information regarding business licensing.

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